The light is just right. The setting is perfect. You feel great and you know that you look swanky in your new outfit. Life is good. You take expert aim. In the next few minutes the result on your smartphone screen flashes across social media. Another selfie, another indelible impression.
On the face of it taking selfies seems like a harmless pastime. Something to mark the passage of time by. But it has become a cause of concern for mental health experts. People who take selfies at all times of the day and night are seen by many as narcircistic and mental health experts say that when the habit becomes obsessive it may point to health conditions like body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Psychiatrist Dr David Veal, consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and Priory Hospital in London specializes in BDD. He told The Mirror that two out of three of the patients that consult him for BDD have a compulsion to take and post selfies on social media sites. BDD is a mental illness that involves an obsession with a perceived flaw in a person’s appearance.
It is not hard to see how this can come about in an age where our screens are populated with seemingly perfect-looking bodies and gorgeous faces. Each tap of the smartphone screen is another attempt to come across as flawless, enviable or even desirable on social media – an impossible ideal created by technology and our weakness for comparing ourselves to others.
Young people who have not formed a mature and reliable self-image is especially vulnerable. Take the case of Danny Bowman who in 2014 became so obsessed with taking the perfect selfie that he tried to commit suicide when he failed in his attempts to take the perfect selfie that could draw the attention of girls. He spent ten hours a day taking 200 selfies.
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‘I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life. The only thing I cared about was having my phone with me so I could satisfy the urge to capture a picture of myself at any time of the day.’
Dr Veal says taking so many selfies it’s not a question of vanity; it’s a serious mental health condition with a high risk of suicide.
The issue is complex. It’s not just an obsession with taking a perfect photo. It goes hand in hand with another addiction: social media. It’s the anticipation of the reaction on social media platforms to your carefully posed selfie that does the damage. If the ‘likes’ are short in coming, your self-image shrinks in tandem. Either that, or the avalanche of approval and admiration generated spawns a self-admiring individual who ends up with cyber admirers but few real-life relationships.
“Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t spectre of either narcissism or very low self-esteem, “remarked Pamela Rutledge in Psychology Today.
So, by all means, take that selfie, just not too many. And do you really need to post it every time?